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Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

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Anyone who can perceive this mystery intuitively will not need
to square the circle.
Since Lindemann settled tt the one outstanding unsolved
problem that attracts amateurs is Fermat's 'Last Theorem*.
Here an amateur with real genius undoubtedly has a chance.
Lest this be taken as an invitation to all and sundry to swamp
the editors of mathematical journals with attempted proofs,
recall what happened to Lindemann when he boldly tackled the
famous theorem. If this does not suggest that more than ordi-
nary talent will be required to settle Fermat, nothing can. In
1901 Lindemann published a memoir of seventeen pages pur-
porting to contain the long-sought proof. The vitiating error
being pointed out, Lindemann, undaunted, spent the best part
of the next seven years in attempting to patch the unpatchable,
and in 1907 published sixty-three pages of alleged proof which
were rendered nonsensical by a slip in reasoning near the very
Great as were Hermite's contributions to the technical side of
mathematics, his steadfast adherence to the ideal that science
is beyond nations and above the power of creeds to dominate or
to stultify was perhaps an even more significant gift to civiliza-
tion in the long view of things as they now appear to a harassed
humanity. "VYe can only look back on his serene beauty of spirit
with a poignant regret that its like is nowhere to be found in the
world of science to-day. Even when the arrogant Prussians
were humiliating Paris in the Franco-Prussian war, Hermite,
patriot though he was, kept his head9 and he saw clearly that
the mathematics of 'the enemy' was mathematics and nothing
else. To-day, even when a man of science does take the civilized
point of view, he is not impersonal about his supposed broad-
mindedness, but aggressive, as befits a man on the defensive.
To Hennite it was so obvious that knowledge and wisdom are
not the prerogatives of any sect, any creed, or any nation that
he never bothered to put his instinctive sanity into words. In
respect of what Hermite knew by instinct our generation is
two centuries behind him. He died, loved the world over, on
14 January 1901.